The son of a legend and an Afrobeat pioneer in his own right
African singer and multi-instrumentalist Femi Kuti may not be well known by mainstream music fans, but he has over 3 decades of experience under his belt. The Nigerian musician and Afrobeat pioneer's career started when Kuti was a teenager and continues to this day. The son of another Afrobeat legend, Femi Kuti has brought his unique sound and positive message to audiences around the world.
To understand Femi Kuti's work, it's important to first understand his father's music. Fela Kuti began playing music in the 50's, and was one of the first artists to fuse African rhythms with Western jazz. Fela and his band first toured the U.S. in the late 60's, and Fela was heavily influenced by the American Black Panther movement. Fela's music was politically scathing, and Fela often directed his political unrest towards the ruling government. This led to Fela often being attacked and arrested for trumped up charges. One government attack on Fela's commune, which was called the Kalakuta Republic, resulted in Fela being severely beaten, his complex (including his recording studio and master tapes) were destroyed, and his mother was thrown out of a window, which resulted in her death.
Despite constant government harassment, Fela continued espousing his socialist and pro-African unity views. He ran for President of Nigeria as head of a party he created, but was kept off of the ballot by the government. He was an outspoken critic of apartheid, the Nigerian government, and the Western governments that supported what he saw as African oppression. He released dozens of albums over more than 20 years, and supported organizations such as Amnesty International. Fela Kuti passed away in 1997 do to complications from AIDS, which he refused treatment for. Over a million people attended his funeral in Nigeria, where he is still revered as a national hero by many.
Femi Kuti's early years were spent in London and then Lagos. Femi's parents divorced when he was young, and Femi lived with his mother until age 15. At that time, Femi went moved in with Fela and quickly joined his band. Femi was able to gain experience as part of his father's band, Egypt 80, and became a standout musician himself. Femi's first breakout performance came in 1985 at the Hollywod Bowl. Fela was arrested at the airport in Nigeria. Femi fronted Fela's extensive band for the performance, and soon began making a name for himself apart from his father. As the 80's came to a close, Fela began recording and playing less and less. Femi formed the band Positive Force and began a music career of his own, separate from his legendary father.
Femi's band followed the roadmap that his father had laid out, but Femi modernized Fela's sound significantly. While Fela's sound was more jazz-oriented, and his songs would often stretch 30 minutes and beyond, Femi tightened up the sound and added more modern elements of hip-hop and soul music. This allowed Femi to bring the Afrobeat music to a new audience, one that his father had not been able to reach. This ability to put Afrobeat music into a format that was more palatable to casual fans helped Femi launch a career separate from his father.
Femi Kuti and Positive Force started out by recording and touring primarily in Africa and Europe. While Femi's following fell short of the adoration his father achieved, Femi Kuti and Positive Force won a strong following of their own in the late 80's and early 90's through a rigorous tour schedule. Fans of Fela appreciated Femi's attempt to continue his father's work, while people new to the Afrobeat sound were more likely to be drawn to Femi's shorter songs as opposed to his father's drawn-out compositions.
Femi Kuti and Postive Force's first two albums were recorded and released primarily overseas, without U.S. distribution. No Cause for Alarm was released in 1989 on Polygram Nigeria, and M.Y.O.B. was released in 1991. Femi focused on building his African fan base and blatantly used his popularity in Europe to fund his work in Africa. Femi said in interviews that he felt that he could be most productive by making his money in Europe and then returning to Africa to do the work he felt needed to be done. A third self-titled album was released in 1995 but again failed to be the international breakthrough album that Femi craved.
This opportunity finally came to Femi in 1997. Femi was signed to MCA records in the U.S., thus guaranteeing international distribution for his next album. Tragedy also struck Femi that year, as both his father and his sister passed away within months of each other. MCA took this tragedy as an opportunity to re-release most of Fela's catalog in the U.S., and thus paved the way for Femi's American debut. 1998's Shoki Shoki was the breakthrough that Femi had been hoping for. This well received album propelled Femi Kuti and Positive Force into the role of a major player on the international music scene and the rightful heir to his father's Afrobeat mantle.
After consistent touring, Femi returned to the studio for 2001's Fight to Win. The album continued Femi's efforts to modernize the Afrobeat sound by including well-known rappers like Common and Mos Def. The album also included the touching song "97," an attempt to look back at the difficult time he and his family went through between the death of his father and sister. The album found an audience in the American and European club scene as well as in Femi's native Africa.
Along the way, Femi continued to embrace much of his father's political point of view. While Femi shied away from some of his father's more radical viewpoints such as polygamy and marijuana use, he spoke emphatically about the need for African independence and democratic representation in the government. He formed the group Movement Against Second Slavery in order to promote African culture and continued to take shots at Nigeria's dictatorship. While Femi's viewpoints were less inflammatory than those of his father, he has never hesitated to speak up.
After his breakthrough in the late 90's and early 00's, Femi took some significant time away from the studio. A variety of labels that he had worked with released compilation albums of Femi's work, and in 2004 he released Africa Shrine, a live album. The album was followed by his first DVD, 2005's Live at The Shrine. While these albums did help Femi maintain his fanbase, there was no real new material for them to enjoy. This changed when Femi finally returned to the studio for 2008's Day by Day. The album moved between traditional heavily jazz-influenced Afrobeat and the more modern sound that he helped pioneer. That continued on his 2013 release No Place For My Dream, another innovative afrobeat fusion record.
As I mentioned earlier, Femi's work has gone beyond just music. He rebuilt the African Shrine in the past decade, and the venue has been host to numerous concerts and events of all different styles. "Shrine" is a fitting name for the venue, as it acts as a shrine for both Afrobeat music and the legacy of Fela. He has continued to expand the legacy of his father while bringing Afrobeat music to an even wider audience worldwide. The work of both Fela and Femi Kuti has spawned a whole generation of Afrobeat musicians across the globe. Femi is taking that work to heart by including his teenage son as a saxophone player in Positive Force. It appears that Femi is poised to continue expanding the reach of Afrobeat music for years to come.
More Lockin' Additions
This year's Lockin' Festival made some major additions this week. The festival announced that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers will be performing, and the event will also feature the only Furthur show of the year. Making things even more exciting, drummer Jay Lane will be joining Furthur for this performance. Phil Lesh also announced that his "Friends" for this show will include Warren Haynes, John Scofield, John Medeski, and Joe Russo.
Digital Tape Machine and Cosby Sweater to perform LCD Soundsystem cover set
Marcus Rezak and Joe Hettinga of Digital Tape Machine will join Cosby Sweater for a full set of LCD Soundsystem covers at this year's Summer Camp. The group will perform the set from 2-4 am on 5/24 at the festival.
Jeff Austin adds solo dates
Following his exit from Yonder Mountain String Band, Jeff Austin announced some additional solo dates. He and his band will be performing through the summer as well as heading into the studio for their debut album.
May 7 Athens, GA—Georgia Theatre
May 8 Atlanta, GA—Terminal West
May 9 Greensboro, NC—Blind Tiger
May 10 Aiken, SC—Aiken Bluegrass Festival
May 30 Charleston, SC—The Pour House*
May 31 Wilmington, NC—Greenfield Lake Amphitheater*
June 1 Black Mountain, NC—Pisgah Brewing Company
June 3 Raleigh, NC—The Lincoln Theatre
June 4 Washington, DC—The Hamilton
June 5 Blacksburg, VA—The Lyric Theatre
June 6 Chattanooga, TN—Riverbend Festival
June 7 Johnson City, TN—Blue Plum Music Festival
August 1 Bridgeport, CT—Gathering of the Vibes Festival^
August 4-7 Alta, WY—Targhee Music Camp
August 9-10 Alta, WY—Targhee Bluegrass Festival
August 15-16 Rancho Del Rio, CO—YarmonyGrass^
August 22 Nederland, CO—Nedfest
September 4 Arrington, VA—Lockn' Festival^
*Jeff Austin Trio
^w/Keller Williams' Grateful Grass Catskill Chill announces lineup
Catskill Chill announced their 2014 lineup. The event will feature Yonder Mountain String Band featuring Allie Kral, The New Deal, lettuce, Shpongle, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Dopapod, Break Science, Turkuaz, and many others.
North Coast Music Festival announces lineup
The North Coast Music Festival will return to Union Park in Chicago on August 29-31. The lineup will feature Bassnectar, Kid Cude, STS9, Snoon Dogg, Dada Life, Zeds Dead, dr. Dog, Slightly Stupid, The New Deal, Griz, and many other artists.
Rodrigo y Gabriela announce dates
Rodrigo y Gabriela announced a new set of dates for 2014. The duo will be supporting their most recent album, 9 Dead Alive.
May 1-3 New York, NY – Beacon Theater*
May 6 Los Angeles, CA – Orpheum*
May 7 Los Angeles, CA – Palladium*
May 9 Oakland, CA – Fox Theater*
May 11 Seattle – The Paramount Theatre*
July 25 Camden, NJ – XPoNential Music Festival
July 26 Cockeysville, MD – Believe in Music Festival
July 27 Newport, RI – Newport Folk Festival
July 31 Vienna, VA – Filene Center at Wolf Trap
August 1-3 Bridgeport, CT – Gathering of the Vibes Festival
August 5 Wilmington, NC – Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
August 6 Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore Charlotte
August 8 Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
August 10 Louisville, KY – Iroquois Amphitheater
August 13 Grand Rapids, MI – Meijier Gardens
August 14 Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
August 15 Chicago, IL – Aragon Ballroom
August 17 Morrison, CO – Red Rocks w/Nathaniel Rateliff
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
April 25-27 and May 1-4, 2014
New Orleans, LA
Performers include: Phish, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Santana, String cheese Incident, John Fogerty, Galactic, Avett Brothers, and many others.
Hangout Music Festival
Gulf Shores, AL
Performers include: The Black Keys, The Killers,Outkast, Jack Johnson, Queens of the Stone Age, Pretty Lights, The Avett Brothers, STS9, The Flaming lips, Modest Mouse, Zedd, and many others.
May 22-25, 2014
Performers include: The Del McCoury Band, The String Cheese Incident, Ricky Skags & Bruce hornsby, Yonder Mountain String band, Railroad earth, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others.
May 22-25, 2014
Three Sisters Park
Performers include: moe., Umphrey's McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, Bassnectar, Primus, Yonder Mountain String Band, Zac Brown Band, Lotus, EOTO, The Devil Makes Three, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others
Dark Star Jubilee
May 23-25, 2014
Performers include: 3 nights of Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band, Galactic, Keller Williams & More Than A Little, Anders Osborne, The Werks, The Wailers performing Legend, and many others
May 23-25, 2014
Clay's Park Resort
Performers include: 3 nights of ekoostik hookah, Flether's grove, Tropidelic, Blue Moon Soup, and many others.
Sasquatch! Music Festival
May 23-25, 2014
Performers include: OutKast, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, MIA, Foster the People, Kid Cudi, Neko Case, Violent Femmes, and many others.
May 29-June 1, 2014
Performers include: The Avett Brothers
June 5-8, 2014
Performers include: The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, STS9, Umphrey's McGee, John Butler Trio, Flaming Lips, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Lettuce, Dr. Dog, Papadosio, and many others.
June 5-8, 2014
Hunter Mountain, NY
Performers include: Gov't Mule, Bob Weir & RatDog, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Umphrey's McGee, Pretty Lights, and many others
June 6-8, 2014
New York, NY
Performers include: Outkast, jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Skrillex, Interpol, and many others.
June 12-15, 2014
Performers include: Elton John, Kanye West, Jack White, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, Zedd, Umphrey's McGee, John Butler Trio, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, and many others
Snowmass Mammoth Festival
June 13-15, 2014
Snowmass Village, CO
Performers include: LEftover Salmon, chris Robinson Brotherhood, Xavier Rudd, Les Claypool's Duo De Twang, The Motet, Bonerama, and many others
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
June 19-22, 2014
Performers include: Sam Bush Band, Bela Fleck & The Colorado Symphony, Brandi Carlile, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Del McCoury Band, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others.
Firefly Music Festival
June 19-22, 2014
Performers include: Foo Fighters, Outkast, Jack Johnson, Imagine Dragons, Pretty Lights, The Lumineers, Weezer, Girl Talk, Tegan and Sara, and many others.
June 26-29, 2014
The Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Performers include: The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), STS9 (2 nights), Ms. Lauryn Hill, Stephen Marley, EOTO, Anders Osborne, The Revivalists, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Rising Apalachia, Zedd, and many others.
July 3-6, 2014
Performers include: Widespread Panic, STS9, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Beats Antique, Trampled by Turtles, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and many more to be announced
July 17-20, 2014
Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park
Terra Alta, WV
Performers include: Shpongle, Beats Antique, EOTO, Conspirator, Zilla, vibesquad, Janover 7 Resunator, Cosby Sweater, Aliver Hall, Broccoli Samurai, and many others.
Northwest String Summit
July 17-21, 2014
North Plains, OR
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, The Motet, Steep Canyon Rangers, Fruition, Dead Winter Carpenters, The Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many others
July 18-20, 2014
Performers include: Outkast, Jack White, Beck, The Replacements, Ray Lamontagne, Band of Horses, Nickel Creek, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Gary Clark Jr., Trampled by Turtles, JJ Grey & Mofro, and many others
July 23-27, 2014
Performers include: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ms. Lauryn Hill, ray LaMontagne, Thievery Corporation, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and many others
Performers include: Papadosio, Opilio, Gratifly Symphony, Earphunk, Earthcry, The Human Experience, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and many others.
Gathering of the Vibes
July 31-August 1, 2014
Performers include: Widespread Panic, John Fogerty, moe., Umphrey's McGee, The Disco Biscuits featuring Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann, Ziggy Marley, Dumpstaphunk, and many others.
August 1-3, 2014
Performers include: Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, White Denim, Broken Bells, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, Forster the People, The Head & The Heart, Trombone Shorty, Chromeo, and many others.
Werk Out Festival
August 7-9, 2014
Performers include: The Werks (3 nights), Papadosio (2 nights), Emancipator, Future Rock Zoogma, Dopapod, Zach Deputy, and many others.
August 8-10, 2014
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
Performers include: Kanye West, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Killers, The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Chromeo, John butler Trio, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and many others
Arise Music Festival
August 8-10, 2014
Performers include: Galactic, Grateful Grass, Nahko & Medicine for the People, and many others
Peach Music Festival
August 14-17, 2014
Performers include: Allman Brothers Band (2 nights), Bob Weir & RatDog, Trey Anastasio Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lotus, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Revivalists, Dopapod, The Infamous Stringdusters, papadosio, and others.
August 15-17, 2014
Performers include: Greensky Bluegrass, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Steppin' In It, The Ragbirds, and many others.
August 21-23, 2014
Performers include: Beats Antique, Papadosio, Lettuce, Kyle Hollingsworth Band performing a tribute to Motown, Dopapod, Kung Fu, The Motet, Zach Deputy, and many others.
August 29-31, 2014
Snow Ridge Ski Resort
Performers include: moe. (3 headlining nights), Lotus, O.A.R. Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Soulive, Twiddle, Aqueous, and others.
North Coast Music Festival
August 29-31, 2014
Performers include: Bassnectar, Kid cudi, STS9, Snoop Dogg, Dada Life, Zeds Dead, Dr. Dog, The New Deal, and many others.
Lockin' Music Festival
September 4-7, 2014
Performers include: Furthur, The String Cheese Incident, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, Wilco, Bob Weir & Ratdog, and many others.
Phases of the Moon Festival
September 11-14, 2014
Kennekuk County Park, IL
Performers include: Widespread Panic (2 nights), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Galactic, Leftover Salmon, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and many others.
September 5-7, 2014
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band with Allie Kral, Lettuce, Shpongle, Karl denson's Tiny Universe, Papadosio, Dopapod, Particle, The Heavy Pets, and many others.
Grand Point North Festival
September 13-14, 2014
Performers include: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (headlining both nights), Lake Street Dive, Trampled by Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, Dr. John, Caroline Rose, and many others.
Harvest Music Festival
October 16-18, 2014
Bear Creek Music & Art Festival
November 13-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Umphrey's McGee, Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, The New Mastersounds, Break Science, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Turkuaz, The Main Squeez, Tauk, and many others
Strings & Sol
December 11-15, 2014
Puerto Morales, Mexico
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Greensky Bluegrass
January 6-11, 2015
Departs from Miami, FL
January 14-18, 2015
Grand Lido Negril
Gov't Mule will host the event
Thanks again for stopping by. I'll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!